Iran lawmakers grill Rouhani on economic woes, reject his answers

Iranian president insists ‘there is no crisis,’ earning vote of dissatisfaction from MPs

President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the Iranian Parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)
President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the Iranian Parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s parliament voted its dissatisfaction with President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday after grilling him over the deteriorating economy.

Rouhani trod a difficult line, seeking to acknowledge the problems facing ordinary Iranians without admitting to a full-blown crisis.

“It should not be said we are facing a crisis. There is no crisis. If we say there is, it will become a problem for society and then a threat,” he told parliament.

It was the first time Rouhani had been summoned by parliament in his five years in power, and MPs demanded answers on unemployment, rising prices and the sharp depreciation of the rial, which has lost more than half of its value since April.

The lawmakers, who have already impeached his labor and economy ministers this month, were unimpressed.

In votes at the end of the session, they expressed dissatisfaction with Rouhani’s responses to four of their five questions on the economy.

Under parliamentary rules, the issues on which lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction will now be referred to the judiciary for review.

As usual, Rouhani offered no concrete policy proposals, instead saying repeatedly that the answer lay in showing the people that the establishment was united.

“You may talk about employment, foreign currency, recession, smuggling… I think the problem is in people’s view of the future,” he said.

“The people are not afraid of the United States, they are afraid of our disagreements. If the people see we are united, they will realize the problems will be resolved.”

Members of the Iranian Parliament gesture as President Hassan Rouhani (not pictured) speaks in the capital Tehran, on August 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

But Rouhani’s government — which pushed a “moderate” line of improved relations with the West — has been badly weakened by Washington’s May decision to withdraw from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers and reimpose sanctions.

Most foreign firms have abandoned investment projects in Iran, and the next phase of renewed US sanctions in November will hit the crucial oil sector.

The only answer from Rouhani which lawmakers accepted related to international banking sanctions which they agreed were beyond his government’s control.

Even after the nuclear deal, major foreign banks continued to refuse to work with Iran, fearing the lack of transparency in its financial sector could lead them into legal trouble.

Despite the impeachment of two of his ministers, Rouhani himself is protected by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said recently that removing the president would “play into the hands of the enemy.”

But he has lost support even among some of his reformist allies.

“What have we done with this nation? We made them miserable and wretched,” said leading reformist MP Elias Hazrati as he voted in favor of impeaching economy minister Masoud Karbasian on Sunday.

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